by Julianne Malveaux
On January 6, 2021, a mob of crazed insurrectionists descended on the United States Capitol. Armed, angry and bent on destruction, their goal was to overturn a legitimate election. The world watched in horror as members of Congress cowered under their seats in their chambers or crowded into “safe” rooms. The country touted itself as a bastion of democracy exhibited behavior consistent with countries we disparagingly describe as “banana republics .”There were no bananas on the Capitol last January 6, but there sure were lots of nuts, determined to overturn the results of a legitimate election.
Perceptions of the insurrection have shifted since it happened, with many of the very Republicans that feared for their lives now defending lawless marauders as simply exercising their “free speech” rights. It’s a partisan thing, with most Democrats saying insurrection and most Republicans claiming free speech. When your free speech shatters windows, breaks down doors, and chases Capitol employees in a place we all once considered sacred, that’s not free speech, it’s tomfoolery. For the past several months, you’ve had pundits wringing their hands and whining that democracy might be destroyed. For some Americans, it was always broken.
We invaded countries because some of their citizens did not have voting rights while denying our very own citizens the same thing. From the end of enslavement in 1865 until the passage of the Voting Rights Act a century later, Black Americans have been denied the right to vote. Even after the Voting Rights Act passed, Southern states passed laws to make voting difficult for the formerly disenfranchised. And they are still trying to make it difficult with dozens of states limiting voting rights and gerrymandering districts to violate the principle of one person, one vote.
The brokenness in our democracy has its roots in the founders of our nation’s original sins of the appropriation of Indian land and enslavement. The flaws in our founding included the ways enslaved people were counted as fractions and how small states with tiny populations had the same Senatorial representation as much larger states. These accommodations were rooted in ensuring that the minority had “equal” rights as the majority. One person, one vote? Not in the United States Senate.
Those folks caterwauling about a broken democracy ought to have been hollering and changing laws when Black voters were sidelined. They ought to have been looking at gerrymandering long before now. People like to blame the forty-firth President for the broken state of our democracy, but the odious power-hungry former leader stood on a stage that others built for him. Predatory capitalists of both parties weakened unions, lowered taxes on the wealthy, turned prisons into the kind of profit centers that they were post-Reconstruction. Decent legislators often sold their principles for reelection, and some, in either party, are now pawns of corporate interests.
It is easy to point the finger at the DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) like Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), but they aren’t the only senators who are reluctant to stand up to their corporate masters. And why aren’t more Senators more vocal about voting rights. Voting rights legislation should have been among the first things passed during this senate session, not one that people have to twist arms to pass.
The Republicans who maintain a shred of decency (Tim Scott (SC) and Susan Collins (ME) are examples) know right from wrong, but they don’t mind being wrong. They are more about power than principle. They don’t seem to care that our democracy is broken, as long as their party can hold sway. They averted their eyes from the insurrection, implicitly approving of it. They’ve made the destruction of our nation’s Capitol a partisan issue when it needs to be a moral one.
I admire those members of Congress who are truth-seekers and truth-tellers, like Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson and Maryland’s Jamie Raskin. Republican Liz Cheyney has possibly ended her political career by telling the truth about the former President’s role on January 6. Some of the passionate members of the Congressional Black Caucus like Maxine Waters and Sheila Jackson Lee don’t tolerate Republican chicanery. Some of the newer members, like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and Cori Bush, challenge those inside and outside their party.
Let’s be clear, though. Our democracy has always been broken. It’s been flawed from its foundation. Can it be repaired? Possibly, but not in this climate. Not unless Democrats decide to grow backbones and learn how to fight. Not likely.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women. She is an economist, author and commentator who’s popular writings have appeared in USA Today, Black Issues in Higher Education, Ms.Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Progressive and many more. A committed activist and civic leader, Dr. Malveaux has held positions in women’s, civil rights, and policy organizations. Currently she serves on the boards of the Economic Policy Institute, The Recreation Wish List Committee of Washington, DC, and the Liberian Education Trust. Malveaux is also President of PUSH Excel, the educational branch of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.